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When Special Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson took over the Leandro case last month, he laid out a timeline for what was to happen. He needed to review Judge David Lee’s order to fund two years of a comprehensive plan aimed at fulfilling the state’s constitutional duty on public education. Robinson had 30 days to do so, which ends April 20.
The North Carolina Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case, but not before the Superior Court can see if the passage of the state budget should impact the initial decision to force the state to hand over the $1.7 billion. This is because Lee’s order came before the passage of the state budget.
Robinson gave the state until April 4 to provide its take on how much of the comprehensive plan was funded by the budget and whether that funding was sufficient.
The state, as defendant, is represented by attorneys for Attorney General Josh Stein. At this point, they have been essentially acting in concert with the plaintiffs while the case has been in Lee’s court, and both plaintiffs and defendants support Lee’s actions.
Ahead of the next hearing in the case, which is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Wake County Courthouse in Raleigh, here’s what’s been filed recently.
Monday, April 4
The state delivered its response on April 4. It said, “Our analysis found that S.L. 2021-180 funds 63 percent of the Year Two Action Items of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan and 49 percent of the Year Three Action Items of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan. This means that approximately $257,418,175 in the Comprehensive Remedial Plan is unfunded in Year Two and approximately $537,409,782 is unfunded in Year Three.” You can read it here.
Robinson also asked the state to say how much money was remaining in the state’s General Fund. Here is what the state said:
“In summary, S.L. 2021-180 anticipates a net of $2.38 billion unappropriated and unreserved in Fiscal Year 2021-2022 and anticipates a net of $22 million unappropriated and unreserved in Fiscal Year 2022-2023. In each Fiscal Year, the Budget reserves $1.134 billion to the State’s Saving Reserve, which would bring the total unappropriated funds in the Savings Reserve to $4.25 billion.
“Separately, the Office of the State Controller maintains daily summaries of the State’s cash balance. As of March 25, 2022, the gross cash balance was $9.84 billion and the net unreserved cash balance was $4.79 billion.”
Robinson ordered responses to the state’s brief delivered by April 8.
Friday, April 8
The state submitted additional filings on April 8. One is a proposal of how Robinson may amend the order from Lee. It suggests that the order require only the amount of money remaining unappropriated from the $1.7 billion after the passage of the budget. You can read that here.
There is also a brief from the state essentially arguing that Robinson should only amend Lee’s order in that limited way. Read that here.
Filings from other parties came in on April 8, responding to the state’s brief from April 4:
- There is a brief from attorneys for House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, both of whom intervened in the case in December 2021. The brief argues that the passage of the state budget completely nullifies Lee’s order. Read that brief here.
- Along with that is an affidavit from the director of the Fiscal Research Division at the General Assembly laying out calculations of how much of the plan is funded by the budget passed in 2021. Read that here.
- It was State Controller Linda Combs who initially took umbrage to Lee’s order and brought the case to the Court of Appeals. She claimed she was legally torn between her constitutional duty to the General Assembly and the court. Her attorney responded Friday to the state’s filing from Monday. Read that here. Another filing from Combs’ attorney essentially reiterates her original argument in the case.
- The plaintiffs also filed a brief supporting the filing from the state. Read that brief here. In addition, plaintiffs filed another brief: “Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.” Read that here.
- Here is the brief filed by the Penn-Intervenors. These are essentially plaintiffs who intervened later in the history of the case. Read it here.
Monday, April 11
Robinson ordered that final response briefs were due April 11. Here’s what was filed:
- The State Board of Education filed an update on progress with implementing the comprehensive plan. Parties in the case had been expected to regularly provide such updates after Lee’s order that the comprehensive plan be implemented. This is the third such update. Read it here.
- The state filed its response to the briefs Friday from other parties in the case. Read that here.
- Attorneys for Moore and Berger filed “Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,” which include that Lee’s order is basically null and void since a budget passed. Read it here. They also filed their reply to the briefs from the other parties. Read that here.
- The plaintiffs filed their brief in response to the arguments from the other parties in the case. Read that here.
- The Penn-Intervenors also filed their “Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,” which support their arguments in favor of forcing legislators to allocate remaining money for the comprehensive plan. Read it here.
Hearing and background
WRAL will have a livestream of Wednesday’s hearing on their website.
The Leandro case started in 1994 when families from five low-wealth counties sued the state, saying it was not meeting its obligation to educate all students equally. The state Supreme Court ultimately said that North Carolina’s children have a fundamental right to the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education” and that the state had not lived up to that constitutional requirement.
Most recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals blocked in late 2021 the transfer of the $1.7 billion ordered by Lee. A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that while Lee might be right to say the funds are needed, it is not within his power to order money be appropriated.
You can see all the current documents in the case by going to the NC Business Court website here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on Public Access – Business Court Dockets. From there, enter the case number under “search selected view.” The number is 95CVS1158. Click on “dockets” on the right side of the screen.